Running a business can be more challenging than many realise

Last June, I wrote about a former colleague from a multinational company who traded his suit for an apron when he ventured into the restaurant business (Star Metrobiz, June 4, 2013).

When I wrote that article, the restaurant had yet to be opened and was still undergoing renovations.

Several weeks ago, since I was in the area, I decided to drop by to see how things were with the restaurant. I had been following the development of the restaurant via social media and had seen some nice pictures of the venue and dishes. Now, I would see if everything was indeed as good as it looked on Facebook.

As soon as I opened the door of the restaurant, I realised that there were quite a number of customers in the cosy little restaurant that serves Teochew food.

As it was a weekend, almost every table was occupied. Given that the restaurant was located in a suburb and that the restaurant was barely a few months old, this was indeed a positive sign.

Two men immediately came to greet and usher me to a table. One of them was my former colleague, but he stared at me with a dazed look. He seemed not to recognise me and only did so after several seconds.

Later, he explained that it was because he was so used to the routine of welcoming and greeting customers as they come through the door — day in day out and with so many of them — he no longer took time to look at each face thoroughly.

After congratulating him on the restaurant’s successful opening (as I had read all the positive reviews by food critics and writers), I asked him how he was coping. I was also curious as to why he was waiting tables.

He said candidly that while they had a steady stream of customers, there were also many internal issues he had to deal with.

Staffing was one of them. The reason why he was waiting on tables that day was because one of the staff did not show up.

He pointed to another lady I could see bustling around serving customers as well — she was one of the co-owners of the restaurant too.

Then, there are other issues that most food-related businesses deal with. For one, he has to manage the inventory of perishable supplies effectively to make sure there is not so much that it goes to waste, and not so little that it isn’t enough for customers.

Secondly, since the food they serve requires trained chefs, he has to keep his chefs happy so there is no disruption to the business if they leave.

In the span of the short few months since the restaurant’s opening, he had already lost two chefs. And this is just touching on the restaurant operations.

There are also other tasks at hand — such as marketing and promotions to draw new customers and retain regulars. Ensuring quality control of the food and service is another.

My former colleague admitted to me in all honesty that when he ventured into the business, he did not realise what it entailed. He said his work hours are much longer now and he barely has time to go for a holiday with his family.

Previously when he was a top executive, he used to take off with his family a few times a year. If he had known it would require such a big sacrifice on his part, he would have thought twice about going into business.

Moreover, he frankly admits he is no longer a young man with the energy and stamina to go the distance the way someone younger might be able to.

I asked him if he would throw in the towel and cash out as soon the business starts turning a profit.

Profit? He laughed and said that would probably come two years later and only IF everything held together and maintained an upward trajectory.

I believe the whole experience has been very eye-opening for my former colleague.

What he shared was very eye-opening for me too. As I left the restaurant, I concluded that entrepreneurship is indeed not for the faint-hearted. But if we never try, we never know.

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Opinion , Starting Out column


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